Just another random chip photo passing by on the slideshow. This was the PCB on my first multi-gigabyte hard drive, a 2-gig Seagate Medalist (ST32122A). If memory serves, it came with the Pentium 166 I acquired shortly after the start of my second semester in college (the good old 386 was no longer cutting it).
Googling the numbers on the chip reveal that this is a “high speed CMOS static RAM” chip, though I couldn’t find any further information as to what it was used for. Since it’s a CMOS chip (and there is a battery-looking thing on the PCB) I would guess that it stored drive parameters and that it was programmed at the factory. Most likely the different capacity drives in the same line shared the same PCB, and they just programmed this chip as appropriate. It could also be cache memory, but that guess is just a stab in the dark.
Update: Based on the Wikipedia entries for SRAM and CMOS, it looks like this was probably the cache.
Some chips and things from the PCB of an old Quantum ProDrive LPS hard drive. I believe this 420-megabyte drive came out of the $2,000 Compaq Presario that was our first upgrade from the 386. If I recall correctly, we had to RMA the drive and they gave us a 520-megabyte model. My teenage self was so happy to have an extra 100 megs for free. Alas, they realized their error and sent the tech to install a 420-megabyte replacement instead. As always, enjoy the museum!
Update: I mentioned this drive in the Hard Drive Nostalgia post. Funny how I once again used the price of the 486 to describe it.
The last time I posted about my old hard drives, I mentioned the first one I ever owned, a Maxtor 8051a. Three days later, I took it apart. Tonight, a photo of it showed up in my desktop slideshow.
From the photo above you can see just how physically large the drive was (the little white plastic piece on the bottom left is the Molex connector). This behemoth could only hold 40 megabytes! My little slim smartphone, in comparison, has 400 times the storage capacity. Amazing.
Compared with modern drives, this drive was still using Phillips-head screws so it was relatively easy to take apart. If I had taken it to the data shredder, they would have pierced a hole in the spindle, and I couldn’t bear for that to happen. No, if my trusty old drive was to die, it was to die by my own hand. The first step was removing the cover and insulating O-ring:
At this point I wondered what would happen if I attempted to power it up.
It’s good to hear those sounds again. They were always the first and last sounds I heard upon powering up and down my old 386. I will always associate the two. That was the last time the drive ever powered up. It’s not in the edited video I uploaded, but later in the unedited version I said “Goodbye, old friend”. How strange it is that we can develop affection for a piece of machinery.
Next, I removed the platters. I decided to keep them and stick them on my wall. My old school papers are probably still magnetically stored on the platters, on my wall.
I suppose I could have removed the PCB first, but instead I removed it after I removed the platters:
On the PCB you can see 20+ years of dust formed around the motor. The motor was made in Japan by Nidec.
I could have gone further but the entire process was too emotionally draining. In the end, I just removed all the main parts. I hope you’ve enjoyed this museum post. 🙂
As part of prepping for moving I’ve been doing a lot of cleaning up, deciding what things I want to keep, and what things I want to get rid of. One of these things is a number of hard drives that I’ve collected over the years.
My first hard drive was a 40 megabyte Maxtor 8051a that was installed in my first computer, a clone 386DX-25. Back then, any PC that was not name brand was called a clone (compare with “white box” today). This basically meant any PC that was not an IBM or a Tandy.
This was the only hard drive I found that doesn’t really resemble a modern hard drive. You can see the PCB is huge and is separate from the casing housing the platters. The PCB also looks more like something out of a radio than a computer, but I suppose all computer parts back then had big protruding chips.
Something I’m very nostalgic about is the sound of my first computer. In those days CPUs didn’t have heatsinks, let alone fans, so the loudest component by far was the hard drive. Upon turning on the computer, the Maxtor would spin up with its distinctive spin-up sound, each of the floppy drives (we had two drives back then, a 5.25” and a 3.5”) would do a seek (boot up floppy seek anyone?), and then the BIOS would beep before loading DOS.
When you do something every day, its characteristics and its sequence becomes a part of your memory. For me, the something is turning on the computer, the characteristics are the sounds, and the sequence is what I previously described. It was like a sing-along; I’d hum the sounds along with the computer. Even now, I can replay the entire process in my mind.
Turning off the computer is a similar memory. Every time I turned the computer off, the Maxtor always had to get the “last word” in. I made a video of the spin-up and spin-down of the Maxtor and posted it on YouTube. You can definitely hear the “last word” of the Maxtor at the 0:17 mark in the video:
As the 40 megabytes of the Maxtor started getting filled up, I began to pine for a new hard drive. The only problem was that I was a 12 year old kid, and that hard drives cost an arm and a leg back then. I made do with PKZIP and moving things onto floppies. I don’t remember how, but eventually I convinced my parents to get me an upgrade. The result was another 40 megabyte drive, what I fondly remember as the “D: Drive”, a Conner CP3000:
Life was pretty sweet with 80 megabytes of hard drive space, but that was lower-classmen stuff. It was soon senior year of high school, and I “needed” more processing power, more storage. Enter my next computer, a two-thousand dollar (wow!) Compaq Presario with a 486SX2-66 processor.
The 486 was one of those PCs that had a built-in monitor and speakers. The hard drive inside that PC was a 420 megabyte Quantum ProDrive LPS. It, too, had a distinctive sound, but instead of spin-up or spin-down it is the seek sound that I remember fondly. I remember the nights of doing homework and listening to that hard drive click while it accessed virtual memory. You can hear the clicking at the 0:10 mark of this video:
Because I started off modestly, I was always of the mindset that I didn’t have that much hard drive space and that I didn’t have that many hard drives. I was pretty surprised to see how many hard drives I’ve collected over the years. The ones pictured here don’t even include all the hard drives that are still in service in active systems. I am sad to dispose of these hard drives, which is why I’m writing about them here. With the photos and videos, I will always have a record of them without having to use up valuable space to store them. Below is a gallery of some of the more interesting hard drives. I hope that when you view them you will be nostalgic as well.
And lastly, just for kicks, a video of a drive that failed to stay powered on:
I got my first USB 3.0 drive yesterday, a Western Digital “Elements” 1 TB 2.5-inch model. The Toshiba 640 gig that I brought along started making some weird noises, so I figured I’d better be safe than sorry. I’ve been transferring files over to the WD and so far, so good. Note that the USB 3.0 interface probably doesn’t make much difference for this type of drive, which is probably a 5400 RPM model.
The model is WDBPCK0010BBK-PESN, which appears to be an Australian version and varies slightly from the WDBPCK0010BBK-NESN offering on Amazon.com. The Amazon model is also called WD Elements “SE”. Maybe there’s a faster drive in that one.
I paid HKD$880, or about USD$113. Not too bad, and it has a 3 year warranty as well!
This is an experiment I am conducting to see how viable building a computer strictly for the purpose of reselling it will be. My objective is to build a complete computer system from scratch and then sell it at cost using a classified ad. The only profit I will receive will be the enjoyment of the entire computer building process. I will catalog the experience in this article.
Statement of Purpose
As mentioned above, I glean a certain amount of enjoyment from building computers. Unfortunately, I do not have the means to buy a new computer every 6 months, and I already have plenty of computers, so I cannot build computers on a consistent basis. When brainstorming for ways to overcome this hurdle, I came up with the idea to work on a single system at a time, sell it, and repeat the cycle again, and thus this experiment was born. If I have a hard time selling the computer upon its completion, then I will have to come up with some new ideas. Either way, this experiment gives me an excuse to build (yet) another computer.
Another reason for conducting this experiment is just plain old competition. Now, I know that I will not become the next Dell, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t try to build a better computer than they can. For once, someone will know exactly what they are getting in their computer. I will specify each and every piece of hardware and software in the upcoming pages. I will also describe the process I went through to build the computer. I believe honesty is the best policy and in my experience, computer vendors do not adhere to the same policy. It is my intention to show these vendors how it’s supposed to be done.
A computer is made up of many subsystems. In the next few pages I will describe the parts used in the system, the rationale for using each part, and the pricing for each part.
The main criterion for picking this processor was price (its superb performance doesn’t hurt, either). When I bought it on October 16th, it was $161.32. Four months later, the lowest price online (Pricegrabber.com) from a reputable vendor for the retail version of the CPU is still over $200.00. Granted, this is an OEM processor, which means it only has a 1-year warranty from Fry’s (as opposed to a 3-year warranty from AMD) and doesn’t include a heatsink/fan unit. Still, in my experience, unless a CPU is manhandled, they simply do not break down. Overall, this was an excellent CPU deal.
Because the above CPU is an OEM version, it does not come with a heatsink/fan (HSF) unit. I chose the Asus CRUX K8 MH7S CPU Cooler because it was cheap and because Asus has a reputation for quality. The MH7S also features a copper core and temperature controlled fan, which is an added plus.
The caveat of the CPU deal from the previous page was that it had to be purchased as part of a bundle with this motherboard. Most of the special deals at Fry’s work this way. The tradeoff for the low price is that you cannot pick your own motherboard. Nonetheless, I still chose this bundle because the motherboard that came with it features the nForce4 chipset, which is probably the best chipset for the Athlon 64 right now. The board features PCI-Express (the newest interface for graphics cards), gigabit ethernet, and built-in 6 channel sound. The ECS brand is known as a budget brand, but in this case the performance of the board matches that of more expensive boards, and for the price, it is hard to argue against using it.
Corsair is one of the top memory manufacturers in the industry. They are known as a company that makes ultra-fast memory for enthusiasts, but they also make their “Value Select” series, which is memory aimed more towards mainstream users who do not need the fastest of the fast in their computer. This was not the cheapest memory available, but I picked it for its reliability as well as its lifetime warranty. I also picked two DIMMs instead of one to take advantage of the Athlon 64’s dual channel memory controller.
Again, price was the deciding factor in purchasing this video card. The NVIDIA GeForce 6600 is not the fastest GPU out there, but it can certainly and acceptably handle most of today’s games. This was the part that began my experiment. I could not pass up buying this card for this price. It is a PCI-Express based card, which means that it can be replaced by a newer and faster card if necessary. It also features a giant heatsink that does not require a fan, which means that it does not contribute to system noise. This was an excellent deal for a video card of this caliber.
The primary storage of this computer is the 200 gigabyte version of the popular Maxtor DiamondMax 10 series. Currently, there is very little differentiation between brands in the performance of desktop computer hard drives. They mostly have 8 megabytes of cache, an ATA100 or ATA133 interface, and a rotational speed of 7200 revolutions per minute (RPMs). Having said that, this Maxtor hard drive fits the bill nicely. And, at a total cost of 38 cents per gigabyte (without a rebate), it is still one of the better hard drive bargains out there.
DVD Burners used to cost hundreds of dollars, which meant that you had better do some research before you buy. Nowadays, DVD burners are both cheap and fast, and it does not really matter what brand you get (to a certain extent). NEC is one of the biggest electronic companies in the world, and it just so happens that they produce DVD burners as well. The NEC 3540A is a member of the critically acclaimed 3500 family and burns to every popular format. Because of these reasons (and the price), I picked this burner as the optical drive for this system.
A lot of new computers no longer come with floppy drives. With the advent of CD burners and flash drives, floppy disks have fallen by the wayside. Still, there have been times for me when a floppy disk would have been the quick and easy solution to a problem, which is why I decided to add a floppy drive to this system. You just never know when a floppy disk will come in handy. This Mitsumi 7-in-1 media drive, however, is not just any old floppy drive. In addition to the floppy drive, it features slots for Compact Flash, MicroDrive, Secure Digital, Multi Media Card, Memory Stick, and Smart Media. I have found card readers to be extremely convenient. Instead of plugging your digital camera into your computer, simply remove the memory card and plug it into the reader. Granted, you pay about two dollars more than buying a floppy drive and card reader separately. But, you have to admit, it looks pretty cool!
As with DVD burners, modems have come a long way since they were introduced. For $7.05, you add fax and dialup Internet capabilities to your computer. There is really no reason why you should not have one.
FireWire (a.k.a. iLink or IEEE 1394) is useful for connecting digital camcorders and external drives to your computer. I would not consider it a necessity for your computer due to FireWire’s relatively lack of popularity; most people prefer USB2.0. Still, I have found FireWire to be useful when connecting two computers together for file transfer. At 400Mbps, it is four times faster than 100Base-T Ethernet. The reason I added FireWire to this computer was that the case I picked (see the next page) has a FireWire port in the front, while the motherboard does not have a FireWire header.
As mentioned above, the case I chose has a FireWire port in the front. It uses a cable with a standard plug to plug into the motherboard. Unfortunately, the internal header of the FireWire card is of a standard 6 pin variety. Thus, I needed a converter cable to plug the case’s plug into the card’s header.
My apologies for the lack of modem and FireWire card pictures. In my excitement to put everything together, I neglected to take pictures of them.
I picked the silver Coolermaster Centurion case from ZipZoomFly.com for $63.01. It looks cool (read: nice and simple) and isn’t overly expensive, and it comes without a power supply, which was one of my main criteria for picking a case. It comes with two case fans: an 80mm in the front, and a 120mm in the back, and it is also tool-free. As mentioned previously, there is a FireWire port in the front, as well as USB and audio ports. After working with the case, I have to say that it is an excellent bargain for the price.
I prefer not to use the generic power supplies that come with cases. That’s why I picked a case that did not include a power supply. Instead, I chose this Rosewill 500W unit. I’ve worked with Rosewill PSUs before, and their higher wattage models tend to be identical to their brand name counterparts. They’re heavy and solidly built. As for reliability, I have had a Rosewill 450W running in my personal file server (with 6 hard drives) 24/7 for over half a year now with absolutely no problems. Lastly, I chose a 500W so that this system would have plenty of power for any future upgrades.
All LCD monitors are made by a select few manufacturers (LG is one of them) and rebranded when sold. Therefore, a “cheap” no-name LCD could physically be identical to a name brand LCD. With this in mind I chose the cheapest, yet aesthetically pleasing, 17-inch LCD that I could find. The monitor was listed as LG on the NewEgg site, but if you look closely, it features the “Z” logo that is a trademark of Zenith. Apparently, this is an LG panel that has been rebranded as a Zenith. The model number is L1715SN, which does not appear on the LG site. Upon further research, I have discovered that this monitor is identical to the LG L1715SL monitor (linked above), with the difference being color and logo. Either way, the display looked beautiful when I tested it – this was a true bargain.
Lite-On is a major keyboard manufacturer (they even make keyboards for Dell), and I have used their keyboards for many years. I picked this keyboard because it connects via USB and matches the overall aesthetics of the system. For under $15 after tax and shipping, I don’t think you can go wrong with this keyboard.
Again, I chose this mouse based on personal experience. Microsoft makes some pretty solid hardware. I have been using the same Microsoft mouse for four years and counting. This black optical mouse fits in with the black color theme of the system, and its optical tracking ensures a smooth and easy mousing experience. This is a great mouse for under $30!
I have experience with these speakers and they are amazing for only $40. Granted, they are only 2.1, but I believe that for this system, a 5.1 setup would be overkill. These speakers deliver chest-thumping bass and clean, crisp sound. In addition, they match the aesthetics of this system perfectly. Another excellent bargain.
Microsoft Windows XP is probably the company’s most successful operating system to date. It’s stable, easy to use, and ubiquitous. If all you do is email, web-surf, word processing, homework, and other basic computing tasks, XP is perfectly fine for you. If you play games, then XP is a requirement for you, since pretty much all games support Windows and Windows only. There are some slight differences between the Home and Professional versions, but I feel that the Professional version is worth the slight premium in price, which is why I chose (and use) it.
Rather than pay several hundred dollars for Microsoft Office, I decided to go with OpenOffice.org, which is perfectly acceptable for someone who wants to do word processing, spreadsheet calculations, presentations, graphics editing, or database work. It will open any existing Microsoft office documents the user might have so he can get started with using his new computer immediately. And, of course, if he really needs MS Office in the future, he can purchase it himself.
Here is a list of other software that I installed onto this computer:
All of the above software, with the exception of Nero Express and nvDVD, can be downloaded from the linked sites and used freely. Nero Express and nvDVD were bundled with their respective hardware parts.
Putting It All Together…
Assembling the Hardware
Once I had acquired all the hardware, I proceeded to put everything together. I will not go into the details here, since in the near future I will be writing a guide on how to build your own computer. I will, however, highlight some of the issues I encountered during the build process:
ASUS Heatsink – I had some difficulty installing this heatsink because it works with both Socket 754 and 939. The clip appeared to be too short to reach the retention mechanism, but upon closer inspection the clip on the heatsink is actually movable. Once I slid the clip down, I was able to install the heatsink without any problems.
Firewire – As mentioned in previous pages, the case has a Firewire port in the front, and I did not want to leave it unused. Therefore, I installed a Firewire card into the computer.
Other than the two issues above, the computer build was a smooth process.
Burning in is the process of testing the hardware after assembly to make sure everything is in good working order. The computer is put under continuous heavy stress for 48 hours to see if any malfunctions occur. If none occur, then you’ll know that your hardware has no problems and will probably last you for a long time.
The first test I like to use is Memtest86. It is a free program that stress tests your memory and reports any errors. Here is the result of my test:
As you can see, the memory passed its test with flying colors.
The next step was to install Windows XP and then run some tests from within Windows. After installing Windows and all necessary drivers, I installed Prime95 and 3DMark2001. Prime95 stresses the CPU and memory, while 3DMark2001 stresses the video card. I ran them both simultaneously for over 48 hours and the computer again passed. Unfortunately, I reformatted without saving my screenshots, but considering the Memtest86 result above, I think you can take my word for it. 😉
After making sure the hardware was okay, I reformatted the hard drive, installed and activated Windows XP, and proceeded to install the various software applications listed on the previous page. The only issues I had with the software had to do with nvDVD and AMD’s Cool’n’Quiet. nvDVD kept crashing until I installed the latest patch from NVIDIA’s website, which apparently fixed the problem. Cool’n’Quiet didn’t seem to be working, as the computer kept remaining at 2.2GHz even when idle. After uninstalling and reinstalling, the computer idled at 1.0GHz, which meant that Cool’n’Quiet was working. I don’t know how to explain it, but apparently a reinstall fixed it. Those were the only software issues I encountered.
Now that we’ve taken a look at the hardware, software, and process of assembling the system, let’s take a look at the complete system specs:
Socket 939 Athlon 64 3500+ (2.2GHz) OEM CPU
Asus CRUX K8 MH7S CPU Cooler
ECS nForce4-A939 Retail Motherboard
2x512MB Corsair Value Select DDR400 System Memory
PCI-Express BFG GeForce 6600 128MB OEM Video Card
Maxtor ATA133 200GB Hard Drive Retail
NEC 3540A 16X DVD±RW Dual-Layer DVD Burner OEM
Mitsumi FA404M 7-in-1 USB 2.0 Media Drive
Hummingbird 56K/V.92 Fax Modem
Syba Firewire IEEE 1394A Card
6 Pin Male to 2×5 Pin Female Firewire Cable
CoolerMaster Centurion 5 Case
Rosewill RP500 500W ATX Power Supply
LG 715Z 17-inch LCD Monitor, Retail
Lite-On SK-1688U Black Natural USB Keyboard, Retail
Black Microsoft Wheel Mouse Optical, Retail
Logitech X-230 Black 2.1 Speakers, OEM
Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2
Total (including taxes and shipping costs)
And here is a list of what you will get in the box (pictured), in addition to the hardware listed above:
CDs for Nero, NVIDIA Drivers and Software, Motherboard Drivers, and Ulead VideoStudio (not installed on computer)
Manuals and product inserts for the various hardware components and Windows XP
TV-Out cable with composite, s-video, and component video outputs
DVI to VGA adapter
24 to 20-pin adapter cable (if you ever need to use the PSU with an older motherboard)
Extra serial ATA cable, with power cable
Power and phone cords
Bracket covers in case you ever take out any expansion cards
I/O shield that came with the case
OEM CPU box for storing the CPU in case of upgrade
Drive covers in case you ever remove the drives
Based on the specifications, this system is priced very competitively against retail systems. The only thing missing is a warranty and technical support, but I am hoping that the person who buys this computer will be savvy enough to provide his or her own support. Having said that, I will now provide a list of pros and cons for buying my system:
Fast – This system is fast. The Athlon 64 CPU performs more work per clock cycle than any other CPU in the market, and at 2.2GHz beats out even 3.0GHz CPUs from Intel. In addition, it features a built-in memory controller for ultra fast system memory access. The 1 gigabyte of dual channel memory is more than what most computers have today and further contributes to overall system speed. Software-wise, I install only what is necessary and nothing else, unlike all the major computer vendors who like to bog down their systems with “bloatware.”
Well built – I don’t like to toot my own horn, but this machine is very well built. I pay attention to details like tying up loose cables, tucking cables away to improve airflow, securing drives and cards with extra screws (in addition to the case’s tool-less fasteners), and wearing gloves while working on the computer. I build my own computers and I built this computer with the mindset that I would be proud to own this computer myself, and I think it shows in the final product.
Aesthetically pleasing – This computer looks good. I picked the parts so that they would match nicely with each other, and I believe this computer would look good in any bedroom, living room, or office. Unlike a lot of other enthusiast-built computers with over-the-top cases, this computer has a basic, sleek look to it. I am especially proud of this particular pro, since I usually don’t color-coordinate my personal systems.
Connectivity/Upgradability – With Firewire, USB2.0, a flash reader, a DVD burner, gigabit Ethernet, a 56k modem, socket 939, PCI- Express, and Serial ATA, this computer is ready to connect with any peripheral you want to throw at it. If you need more processing power, you can install a new dual-core CPU. If you want to make it a true gaming computer, you can install a faster video card. Need more space? Install another hard drive. With the Ethernet or modem ports, you’re ready to hop on to the Internet. There are quite a few possibilities!
No support – This computer will not officially have any technical or warranty support from me. Granted, if the buyer has some basic questions for me, I would be glad to help via email. But I am the technical support person for my friends, family, and employer, and I simply do not have the time or desire to provide extra support on the side. Thus, I am making it clear here that whoever buys my computer should have some knowledge of how Windows and PC hardware works, or know someone who does. Maybe you are like me, an enthusiast, but you don’t have time to build your own system. You then, would be the perfect buyer for this system. If, on the other hand, you know nothing about computers and don’t have a source for technical support, then perhaps you should buy from elsewhere (unless you are willing to learn on your own). This point is probably the most important point to consider for a potential buyer.
Well, there you have it. My first build and sell computer project. In my many years of experience dealing with computer sellers, I have found that many of them are unscrupulous and dishonest. They prey on consumers’ lack of knowledge and try to sell them more than they need. Having been a victim of their schemes, I now want to “show them how it’s done,” so to speak. Now, I realize that I probably will never be able to compete with them, or even be able to sell this computer in a timely manner, but I also realize that I have to at least try. Like I said, this is a computer that I would be proud to own even if I cannot sell it. But hopefully, a potential buyer will read this article and see the time and effort that I have put into this project and decide that it would be worthwhile to buy this computer from me. Thank you for reading about my project. I hope you had as much fun reading about it as I did working on it. I will end this article with some random pictures of the build process. Enjoy!